If there’s anything most business owners hunger for, it’s more brand visibility.

In today’s crowded digital marketplace, that can be hard to come by. After all, there are more people searching online than ever before. There are also millions of businesses trying to reach those people.

With the first page of Google capturing anywhere from 70-90% of clicks, it’s more important than ever for businesses to sprint to the top of the pile.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. You may struggle with your marketing strategy, or you may not be sure of the difference between SEO and SEM. How should you approach your campaign for visibility, and what tools do you need?

If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you should know about SEO and SEM.

At a Glance:
The Difference Between SEO and SEM

Let’s start with the basics: What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?

In some contexts, you may hear both of these terms used interchangeably, but their definitions have one specific nuance. However, to understand both of these strategies, you need to be aware that they fit under the same umbrella term: search marketing.

Search marketing is the act of helping a business gain visibility in the search engine results pages or SERPs.

SEM and SEO both do this using different tactics. SEM uses paid marketing tactics to help a business appear in the SERPs. SEO, on the other hand, uses organic improvements to help a business appear higher in the SERPs.

This terminology may seem confusing at first, but don’t worry. Things get easier once you understand the basics of both SEO and SEM, so read on!

What Is SEO?

As mentioned above, SEO stands for “search engine optimisation.” It helps a business gain visibility through organic tactics.

In other words, businesses don’t pay for a higher ranking in the SERPs. Instead, they optimize their websites using strategies designed to indicate value, professionalism, and authority.

These strategies are geared toward the search engine algorithms that “crawl” websites to determine their ranking. However, the algorithms themselves rank websites according to their expertise, authority, and trustworthiness for users. The strategies that work to elevate a website in the SERPs will also help make a website more valuable to customers

This makes SEO an effective one-two punch!

There are countless tactics SEO experts use to help businesses rank better in the SERPs. However, there are several main branches that the best strategies cover.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO includes things users see and interact with on a website, from keyword choice to content to images. This type of optimization helps search engines better understand the content on a page. This in turn can help that page rank better for specific targeted keywords.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO optimises the things happening behind the scenes. A few notable examples include optimising images, uploading sitemaps, increasing page speed, and creating responsive site designs. These may not be immediately noticeable to customers, but they help improve a website’s user experience overall.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO involves creating connections to high-ranking and authoritative websites. These connections—which usually happen via link-building and social media strategies—can help improve your site’s rankings.

Local SEO

Local SEO helps brick-and-mortar businesses show up for local searches. From optimising map data to soliciting reviews, these strategies help get more customers through the door.

Note that the best SEO campaigns use a combination of multiple strategies, not just one! This is why it often helps to partner with a company with expertise and experience in each category.

What Is SEM?

SEM stands for “search engine marketing.” As the name suggests, it involves using paid strategies to help businesses improve their rankings in the SERPs.

An SEM campaign will consider opportunities for sponsored ads that appear in a search engine. While Google Ads holds the lion’s share of the market, some audiences respond better to ads placed with Bing, Yahoo, Amazon, or other search sites.

Developing an effective ad campaign involves some key steps, from sifting through target keywords, writing ad copy, monitoring the resulting metrics, and more.

Which Should You Choose:

At the end of the day, the choice of SEO or SEM is up to you.

It’s worth noting that both strategies can help your website in different ways. Using both of them at once is a great way to increase your traffic at a consistent level. This is especially true if you aim to create an aggressive campaign.

However, there are a few key differences to keep in mind as you make a decision.

  • Pricing
  • Time to see results
  • Value over time

Because SEM requires a budget for ads, it can be a significant price hike in comparison to the smaller cost of SEO. With SEO’s subtle optimisations, you may need to wait several months for results. This is a long wait when compared to the shorter wait for the launch of your SEM ad campaign.

However, SEO offers consistent results over a long period of time, while SEM campaigns are only effective as long as you’re paying for them

As with anything, it’s critical to find a balance between your immediate and long-term goals. Both SEO and SEM campaigns offer visibility in different ways, making them important parts of any marketing strategy.

Find the Right Search Marketing Strategy for You

Now you know the difference between SEO and SEM, but you still may not be sure where you stand. Both of these strategies can be hard to harness, which is why it’s often better to leave them in the hands of experts.

We’ve been partnering with businesses to help them reach success since 2011, and we’d love to learn more about your brand. Contact us today so we can help you create the perfect strategy!